Category Archives: Trees, Plants & Vegetation

Protecting Pollinators

Protecting Pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and bats are responsible for pollinating 75% of the crops and flowering plants in the United States according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pollinators do this by carrying pollen from one plant to another and when they rub their bodies against the inside of flowers when searching for food or nectar they fertilize other flowers. The pollen is moved from the female part (stamen) to the male part of the other flowers (stigma).

The pictures shown above are of a bumble bee and Monarch Butterfly that I photographed on Long Island, New York. They obviously are crawling around flowers looking for nectar and pollinating other flowers in the process. There must have been over 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the flowers of this one bush.

The Agriculture Industry attributes the value to pollinators and crop production to over $19 billion annually. Many crops in the U.S. could not produce their seeds or fruits without the help of these bees, butterflies, birds  and other flying organisms. Some farms set up bee hives near their crops to ensure their plants get pollinated.

Dangers to the health of pollinators and causes for their decline in numbers which has been happening for years are their loss of habitat, diseases spreading among these organisms, and pesticide use by man. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some useful information about protecting pollinators on their website which tells citizens how to protect pollinators and prevent the decline of their populations.

 

 

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation

The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed. 

The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places. 

The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well. 

One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers. 

The SCCF has a Facebook Page and visitor comments on Trip Advisor as well. 

 

 

Sea Oats

Sea Oats cover many of the sand dunes and beach areas in SW Florida and coastal communities on the East coast from Maine to Florida. Sea Oats grow up to 6 ft tall and perform an important role in protecting coasts from erosion.

Sand Dunes form on a beach when sediment of sand is blown upwards on a  beach where it accumulates and is suspended around obstacles likes plants, fences, and driftwood. Plants are the best solution to keeping sand dunes in place because their roots hold them in place when flooding from winter storms occurs or severe events like hurricanes happen.  

The pictures above are of Sea Oats on beaches on Sanibel Island, Florida and Southampton New York. Both of these areas see their beaches diminished and reduced because of winter storms, tidal currents and other forces. The Sea Oat plant is a favorite anti erosion plant because they are hardy plants that are tolerant of salt water, winds and their ability to send their strong root structures called rhizomes underground.

There is a good fact sheet describing Sea Oats on the United States Dept of Agriculture web site. There are also other good images of Sea Oats on the Bing Website.

 

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&qpvt=sea+oats&FORM=IGRE

 

https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_unpa.pdf

 

 

Cactus

Cactus is usually thought of as a plant that grows in dry desert like climates but many people have grown various species of cacti in their yards as ornamental plants and they have done. very well in our wet and humid climate. There are several species of cacti that are native to Florida cactus including the Opuntia or Prickly Pear cactus. The Prickly Pear cactus can grow to over 3 ft. tall and is a sprawling green cactus with flat stems and branches and has flowers that blossom in the Spring.

My neighbor across the street collected bits and pieces of cactus that were being thrown away by other homes in the neighborhood and created a very colorful garden of a variety of cacti. Cacti have an advantage over other plants because they require little maintenance and can often survive in extreme weather conditions of heat and cold. The Gardening Solutions website from the Unlv of Fla Institute of Food and and Science provides some helpful information on growing cactus.

The species of cactus in the picture include a Yucca Cactus, Prickly Pear, Echeveria, Desert Rose, Blue Agave and another one that I haven’t identified yet. Cactus requires a dry soil that drains well and usually lots of sun. Florida’s weather suits many types of cactus because of our plentiful sunshine and well draining soil which is very sandy. The Christmas Cactus is a popular plant to give around the Christmas season because of its reddish flowers it produces.

Cactus grows well indoors in sunny locations in the home. I look for plants in a couple of popular garden stores and nurseries in the Ft. Myers area including Driftwood Nursery in South Ft. Myers on U.S. 41 and the Riverland Nursery on Rt. 80 in N. Ft. Myers.

 

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers in Florida

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Florida is home to thousands of wildflowers that give color and beauty to the gardens, parks,  preserves, roadsides and beaches of our state. I became interested in plants and wildflowers after I moved to Florida because I realized that they were an integral and important part of the culture, history and economy of the state. Florida was named by its first early Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, in 1513, who named it “ La Florida” or “The Flower”.

There are many flowers and plants that are native to Florida or ones that have existed here for over 500 years and many which have been brought here from other countries. There are also many that have also been hybridized or changed to enhance their color and characteristics. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, wildflowers grow in several geographic localities in Florida including Coastal Uplands, Hardwood Forests, Pine Flatwoods, Ruderals, Sandhills and Wetlands.

I have made a hobby of learning about the names of these wildflowers and taking pictures of them. I have had to use a field guide and internet resources to identify them. There are many companies and nurseries who sell these flowers and help gardeners keep their yards looking beautiful. There are also some non-profit organizations such as the Florida Wildflower Foundation and Florida Native Plant Society whose mission it is to preserve, and enhance the native flower communities in Florida and to educate the public about the importance in keeping these wildflower populations healthy and growing. The Florida Wildflower Foundation actually made a license plate tag which it sells through the Dept. of Transportation and has raised over $3 million dollars so far. The mission of the Florida Native Plant Society is “ to promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of the native plant communities of Florida. They have chapters throughout the state and people can join and participate in conservation and educational programs.

The pictures that I took which are shown above were in parks and roadside areas in Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island and Naples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salt Water Marshes are Carbon Sinks

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Salt Water Marshes that surround some of our coastlines act as a carbon sink or repositories for vast quantities of carbon dioxide which is the main fossil fuel that causes global warming. Theses carbon sinks prevent the fossil fuels from entering the atmosphere. Scientists think that Salt Water Marshes, Mangroves and Sea Grasses can hold ten times as much carbon dioxide as the large trees in our forests. With global warming and sea level rise  becoming an ever bigger threat to our cities and towns we should protect and preserve these marshes, mangroves and sea grass beds wherever and whenever we can.  Mangroves and marshes which line our coastlines also serve to prevent erosion of our beaches and shores and provide an important habitat and ecosystem for marine life.

The problem with our coastlines is that they have been under attack by natural causes such as hurricanes and storms for thousands of years and man made obstacles such as waterfront homes, roads and commercial developments.  We have harmed and sometimes destroyed this natural buffer from the sea by altering the landscape near the coastlines.

The pictures shown above are of the salt water marshes around Amelia Island in northern Florida and birds occupying the salt water mangroves on Sanibel Island. Amelia Island and Sanibel Island seem to get it right by their conservation efforts to protect and preserve their coastal habitats. The National Ocean Service of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration explains how salt water marshes provide a vital link to the fish, birds mammals, and mollusks which depend on them for survival as well as preventing coastal erosion. The  NOAA Service Education also  has a good website which gives an illustration of salt marshes, mud flats and their benefits to wildlife and mankind. New Orleans is a good example of what can happen to a city when it’s coastal marshes and coastal barriers become diminished due to man made causes. Their salt water marshes have been diminished greatly over the years and their city is at greater risk for flooding, wind damage from storms and sea level rise.

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Orchid

Ghost Orchid

Ghost Orchid

 

 

 

 

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The Ghost Orchid is very rare and has been spotted in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary by a visitor who was probably looking for birds in the swamp. She told others about her sighting and the staff of the sanctuary has been recording and observing it’s growth and flowering blooms over the past few years. The Ghost Orchid use to be found in other wetlands in South Florida including the Fakahatchee Strand, and Big Cypress National Preserve but they have largely disappeared. Their disappearance has made the remaining ones more valuable and sought after by collectors and poachers. The Ghost Orchid needs a special moth called the giant Sphinx Moth to pollinate it’s flowers before they bloom. The destruction of the swamps in South Florida by urbanization, development of farms and canal construction to dry out the land has probably reduced the number of these moths.

Orchids are epiphytes or types of plants that do not have a normal root structure but instead grow and attach themselves to trees and other plants and derive their water and moisture by water running off these plants. The picture of the orchid above is an artificial replica that is located in the visitor center at the Calusa Nature Center in Ft. Myers. You can learn more about the Ghost Orchid by visiting the website of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary or the ghostorchid.info website.

 

 

 

 

Pine Island

Pine Island is located to the west of Cape Coral and  connected to the mainland by Little Pine Island, Matlacha and a draw bridge. Pine Island is the largest barrier Island in SW Florida at 17 miles long and 2 miles wide but also one of the least populated because it contains mostly native plant and tree nurseries, small neighborhoods and fishing villages. Stringfellow Road runs the entire length of the island and will take you from Bokeelia at the north end of the island to St. James City at the south end.  Beachgoers to the island will be disappointed since most of the island is surrounded by mangrove forests.  The island is trying to keep their quaint character and small size  by limiting the number of homes per acre and maintaining restrictive zoning regulations.

There are very attractive places to visit on the island including Bokeelia where you can see beautiful Charlotte Harbor which is world famous for it’s Tarpon fishing. I stopped at a tropical fruit nursey and bought some mangoes which are grown widely throughout the island. I also had a coconut drink from a freshly picked coconut tree. There is a ferry boat service for people who want to see neighboring Cayo Costa Island. The restaurants on and near the island are mostly small and casual places. It is worth the trip to see the native nurseries and views from either end of the island. You can learn more about the island by visiting The Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce or the  PineIslandFl.com  websites.

 

 

Sea Grape Plant

Sea Grape Plant

Sea Grape Plant

Sea Grapes ( Coccolaba uvifera) are large flowering plants or shrubs that are often seen in coastal areas in sand dunes and near beaches. They are hardy plants, very salt tolerant and make excellent plants to halt erosion on beaches and also act as wind breakers for nearby homes. The plant grows large grape like clusters that are reddish looking fruits. The tree or shrub often grows to large sizes and can be several feet wide and 50 ft high although the ones I have seen as usually 5-8 ft tall. The shrub in this picture was photographed in a sand dune on Sanibel Island. The barrier islands that line the coasts around Florida have some of the worst erosion problems due to tides, wind, currents and occasional storms and hurricanes. Communities plant grasses, plants and trees in and around beaches to prevent erosion and to protect homes. Some other commonly seen plants and grasses include Sea Oats, Saw Palmetto, Spanish Bayonet, Century plant and Beach sunflower. The Floridata Plant Encyclopedia has some good additional information about the Sea Grape plant. To learn more about other beach and sand dune plants check out the Florida Plants.com website.

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Palmetto Berries

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The Palmetto Berry (Sereboa repens) which grows on the Saw Palmetto plant is a much sought after berry in Florida’s State Forests and preserves because it is supposed to have medicinal and herbal supplement benefits that help men with prostate problems and baldness.  The berry is an important food source for bears, deer and over 200 species of wildlife living in Florida’s forests, and preserves. The Florida Forest Service prevents the over harvesting of this small berry growing on Saw palmetto plants by issuing permits to people each year for $10 per day and allows each person to take as many as they can gather. The state decided to stop issuing the permits this year because of over harvesting and the detrimental effect it may have on the wildlife trying to find food.  The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed website reports that they have had a lot of illegal poaching of Palmetto Berries since CREW’s land contains many Saw Palmetto plants. The powdered form of the berry can sell for $20-70 lb. on eBay as reported by the Ft. Myers News Press.  Many migrant farm workers collect the berries for supplemental income.

The Ft. Myers News Press issued a story “Palmetto Berry. A Bear Market” on July 9, 2015 which speaks about the problem of overharvesting of the berry. The article mentions that people ignore the rules of gathering these berries and sneak into forests to pick the berries anyway.   I took some pictures of Saw palmetto Bushes while I was walking through  Hickeys Creek Mitigation Park. There were some berries on the plants I observed but not all of them. The Saw Palmetto plant  flowers  between February and April and the berries ripen in September and October. You can see the berries I took in these photo’s haven’t ripened yet and are still dark green. The Lee County website for Hickeys Creek Mitigation Park gives some useful information about the type of wildlife and plants that live and exist there.